Dad takes plea deal to reduce charges in death of two kids

The murder case against a father accused of the burning deaths of his two sons fizzled Friday after he accepted a plea deal that ensures he will only be in prison until the middle of 2009.

Charles Schuttloffel, 37, pleaded no contest to two counts of involuntary manslaughter Friday afternoon following a plea bargain finalized that morning. In exchange, prosecutors dropped two counts of special circumstances murder and a felony arson charge.

He will be sentenced to no more than four years in prison when sentenced June 27. Defense attorney Dek Ketchum, however, said he would argue in favor of Schuttloffel being sentenced to only time served.

“The worst case scenario for him is probably 14 months,” given the time he’s already served, Ketchum said.

Prosecutors say they agreed to the deal based on new defense evidence presented two weeks ago at a failed hearing to dismiss the charges.

“There was the somewhat remote possibility that this could have been the result of an electrical fire started by one of the small appliances. We previously thought there was no possibility,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. He added that prosecutors believed the new evidence would prevent a jury from unanimously convicting Schuttloffel.

Schuttloffel, a commercial fisherman, was indicted by a grand jury in March of last year in connection with the May 4, 2004, San Gregorio house fire that killed 3-year-old Charlie and 2-year-old Billy Schuttloffel.

Handcuffed and clad in the red jail clothes reserved for serious offenders, he answered the judge’s questions in a soft voice and occasionally wiped his eyes during Friday’s court appearance.

Outside of court, Ketchum described a mountain of evidence he claims would have exonerated Schuttloffel of murder. Recently, Ketchum said, three witnesses had come forward who described the father’s frantic efforts to race back into the house to save his sons before the fire department arrived. The witnesses were walking their dogs on a nearby ridge, Ketchum said.

Additionally, Schuttloffel had passed a polygraph test, he said, and there was evidence that a wood stove was unlatched and that the two boys had escaped their childproof gate and were playing with cardboard nearby.

Ketchum said his client was happy about the plea agreement, but will always been haunted by his inattention the day of the fire.

“He feels vindicated by the disposition that the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement recognize this was not a murder case,” Ketchum said. “On the other hand, he recognizes it happened on his watch.”

Schuttloffel was loading up the car to take his children to a relative’s home when the house went up in flames, Ketchum said.

The resulting murder charges were based on a “slipshod, incompetent” investigation by the fire department, he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

From left, Natasha Dennerstein, Gar McVey-Russell, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Jan Steckel and Miah Jeffra appear in Perfectly Queer’s fifth anniversary reading on Jan. 20.<ins> (Courtesy photo)</ins>
Perfectly Queer reading series celebrates fifth anniversary

Online event features five writers, games, prizes

(Robert Greene/Tribune News Service)
As tensions grow over vaccinations and politics, California lawmakers face threats from public

Anti-vaccine speakers hint at gun violence during routine budget hearing at state Capitol

Most Read